Every so often, when my bank balance plunges towards zero and the black mould in the bathroom looks like it’s about to gain sentience, I start wistfully looking online for “cool jobs”. Something that would allow me to move abroad, perhaps, and earn some decent cash without having to be a student again. As it turns out, nannying ticks most of those boxes.
On one hand, I can see the appeal, especially if the money’s good and there’s free living space in a fancy house. You get to hang out with kids all day and do potato painting or whatever. On the other, it’s mostly the super rich who can afford nannies – and everyone knows that once your net worth reaches a certain point, you can’t be expected to be a rational person anymore. You decide to do unhinged things, like try to colonise space.
But what’s it really like catering to the offspring of the wealthy? Are the parents just as bad as the kids? I asked some current and former nannies about their weirdest and worst experiences on the job.
‘The kid threatened me with a kitchen knife’
I was an au pair for a family with a gorgeous house just outside of Bologna city centre. The kid was six, going on seven, and he was an only child. There were a few incidents with him. One day, near the end of my stay, the kid threatened me with a kitchen knife, waving it in my face. The mum came in and just said, “Can you put that down?”
That same day, he took a wooden spoon from the kitchen and decided he would spank me on my leg so hard that it nearly left a welt. The parents just didn’t care – there were never consequences. I think they saw me as a little handy gadget, rather than a human being. Emma.
‘I got yelled at if I put too much water in the pot to cook pasta’
I was an au pair in a suburban town outside of Boston. This family consisted of a doctor mum with anger issues, a German CEO father who yelled at all times, and three kids aged 12, 15 and 18. The family had a lot of money, but it wasn’t visible because they reused everything to the point where it was absolutely ridiculous – baking sheets, aluminium foil, the smallest amount of leftovers. Even the dog’s poop bags were reused, by throwing them in the compost until they were “clean”.
I had to drive to the school several times to hand one of the kids their cut up apple from breakfast so it wouldn’t go to waste. I also got yelled at if I put too much water in the pot to cook pasta. Whenever they weren’t home I would just collect trash in a bag and throw it in one of the dumpsters in the city. Lana.
‘The mum illegally took her daughter completely out of school – I was the kid’s only source of education’
I’ve been in the nanny industry for almost a decade, and recently I worked for a lawyer mum and her nine-year-old daughter in the Santa Clarita Valley. I was hired as a nanny who would help the kid with reading, but it quickly turned into a “tutor” job as well. Three months in, the mum illegally took her daughter completely out of school – I was the kid’s only source of education, and was using workbooks that I had chosen on my time off.
I came up with an entire curriculum, with reading, writing, maths and more, even though I’m not a certified teacher. In general, the mum treated me awful, was always cancelling on me at the last minute and even withheld my pay. Isa.
‘The mother bought a whole apartment building… just so her daughter could make a garden’
I nanny for a girl in Japan, and her parents primarily work for their own real estate company. One of the craziest stories was when the girl wanted to make a flower garden. They already have a huge beautiful garden at their mansion, but the gardener didn’t want her to mess it up.
The girl saw a plot of land next door and asked me to make a garden there. When I told her that we couldn't because that’s not her house, she said she would ask her mum. The mum called the owner of the land and offered to buy it. They told her that they weren’t selling the land – so the mother bought the whole apartment building, along with the land, just so her daughter could make a garden next to their house. Jake.
‘They kicked us out with one week’s notice’
My partner and I started nannying when we moved to England from Europe and wanted to learn more English. This couple had just moved into a posh neighbourhood in Buckinghamshire. Their new house was worth £1.8 million and they had a new puppy, new car and new nannies (us). They treated us like crap – for example, before moving in they promised us we could use their car, but once we moved in they said we couldn't.
Within two months they wanted us out because the dad lost his job at a huge company, even though we had a contract for 12 months. When we asked where the contract was, the mother said she lost it – but I think it was a lie because they didn’t want to pay us the agreed fee for cancelling. They kicked us out with one week’s notice, knowing we had nowhere to go, and during that week said we couldn’t touch any of their food except for milk and butter. Peter.
‘The boys would literally pick up poo and throw it at me’
I was briefly an au pair for a family in Corsica, who lived in the mountains. The land around their house was amazing – the mum ran a restaurant there and there was a pool. It was so beautiful. The two sons seemed really sweet when I met them, but everything changed the next day. They were not like any children I had ever encountered. They had three horses and the boys would literally pick up poo and throw it at me.
There was also a stray cat that lived around the ranch, and one day they grabbed it and left it in a cage without food or water. When I finally found it, I was so upset. These kids would pee anywhere, including around the pool, which was so unhygienic, but the mum wouldn’t tell them off for it. They even threatened to shoot me – I don’t know for sure, but there could have been guns in the house, because the family went hunting with their dogs. This all happened within three days, and then I had to tell the family that I was leaving. I just couldn’t do it anymore. Naomi.
‘I feel like they were trying to catch me not paying attention to the baby’
It was my first day on the job, and the father told me he was going out for 15 minutes. An hour passed and he was still not back, so I put the baby down for her nap. I really had to pee, and I always take the nanny cam with me to the bathroom in case of an emergency. While I was in the bathroom, I saw the father go in and talk to the baby, then take her to another room to change her diaper.
When I got out, he commented on me going to the bathroom during nap time, and said it was “concerning”. I told him that the baby was safe, but I feel like he was trying to catch me not paying attention to her. I decided to quit there and then. Jess.